Have you ever cringed so hard you just wanted to sink into your seat and die? Senior Year is a movie full of moments like that. Nearly every joke, nearly every scene, is full of beats that just made me want to turn off the movie and go do something else. There’s no greater insult to give a movie than to not finish it and I came this close to it with Senior Year.
I did finish it though. I endured it until the credits rolled and while I can say it most certainly did get better, it was never good. It always bordered on being passable, but those lows were painful.
Director: Alex Hardcastle
Release Date: May 13, 2022 (Netflix)
Stephanie (Angourie Rice) is a high school senior living what she thinks is her best life. She’s dating the hottest guy in school, she’s captain of the cheer team, and she has two great friends that have been with her ever since she moved from Australia. However, after a cheer stunt goes horribly wrong, she ends up in a coma and wakes up 20 years later with her teenage mind in a now Rebel Wilson adult body. She’s mortified by this, but decides that in order to move on from what happened to her, she needs closure on her senior year, vowing to go back to school, become cheer captain again, get popular, and become prom queen.
It’s hard to identify only one thing that causes Senior Year to sputter and die as miserably as it does. I could simply say that the jokes don’t land, but I’ve seen many comedies before where bad jokes don’t inflict this much embarrassment upon audiences. The jokes in Senior Year go through two different extremes: they’re either super raunchy sex jokes or laughing at, what it perceives to be, the ultra PC environment of 2022. In theory, this could work, but the execution just doesn’t.
I don’t really have any issues with the sex jokes other than the fact that Rebel Wilson is performing them. Her character is so over-the-top that you wonder if the coma didn’t cause legitimate brain damage to her. At moments they can be funny, like when her and her adult best friend, played by Sam Richardson, are trying to mess with people in a movie theater, but most of the time they’re just awkward and lame to watch. Rebel Wilson has one setting throughout the entire film, delivering the sex jokes the same way that she tries to have a genuine emotional moment, and it gets grating really quick. But I’d rather take all of those faux-shocking jokes delivered by Rebel Wilson than Senior Year’s other brand of humor.
Does anyone remember Demolition Man? It was a solid Sylvester Stallone action movie from the 90’s that was a pretty entertaining satire of then perceived political correctness. Senior Year captures that vibe exactly, only forgets to have any satire. We’re supposed to laugh at how PC 2022 is, like how the cheer squad doesn’t do any flips or excite the crowd but they do interpretive cheers about how “no means no” that the principal loves, or how there are no more prom kings or queens to make sure that no one feels bad about losing. There’s no real social commentary behind it other than a general generational grumbling of “things were better back in the day” and they’re so extreme that they mostly come across as culture war nonsense and those tired “this is the future that liberals dream of” red meat fodder.
All of that may actually mean something if they were funny, but they’re not. The jokes rarely land and whenever they’re not attempting to do something, anything unique with the premise, they instead fall back on tired fish out of water jokes, like how Stephanie is marveling at what a cellphone is, or trying to grasp why people are talking about likes. It’s unoriginal and redundant.
As I watched this movie flail around and struggled to generate any kind of laughs, all I could do was think about how Netflix is currently doing. The company is losing subscribers, firing staff, and cancelling several projects, but it’s framing this as people aren’t watching their animated shows, so they’ve gotta go to keep the company afloat. Netflix doesn’t have a problem with tits animation production, it has a problem greenlighting crap like this and being shocked why bad movies like Senior Year aren’t generating precious engagement. Quality control is needed and this movie is a perfect example of that.
The movie does get somewhat better as it progresses and tries to shift away from comedy and into more dramatic territory. If you thought that Stephanie was selfish and rude in the beginning of the film when she was a teenager, then first off, congratulations! You have a brain cell. Secondly, the movie agrees with you. The supporting cast does a bang-up job at elevating fairly stock characters and making them interesting. Sam Richardson is absolutely the highlight of the film, charming his way into a relationship with Steph that makes me wish he can get better material than this. Zoe Chao, Chris Parnell, and Mary Holland also deliver good performances that go beyond the expected genre cliches.
It’s just a shame that the material isn’t better and they have to star opposite someone who really only has one form of delivery throughout the film’s duration. By the time Senior Year ends, everyone joins in a massive dance number to celebrate Steph’s graduation. All I wanted was for Steph to get into another accident and go into another 20 year coma. That ending would have been the ultimate punchline and it would have elevated the entire movie for me. But alas, we can only judge the reality we’re in and not the one we want.
As it is, Senior Year fluctuates wildly between being a below-average comedy and a cringe compilation. Alex Hardcastle is an experienced television director who’s worked on some fantastic comedies like The Office, Parks and Recreation, New Girl, among many, many others, but he’s let down by a writing team that just doesn’t understand comedy. This is the reason why Netflix is in trouble. If Senior Year is the type of exclusive movie that is selling audiences on your platform, no wonder you’re losing subscribers.